Have you ever been publicly embarrassed either by your own actions or the actions of others? Ever been ridiculed? Ever wanted to defend yourself from accusations that may or may not have been true? If you have, you may understand the feelings of the woman I want to talk about today—the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:1-11)
As we slip onto the dusty streets of Jerusalem, we see her surrounded by a group of men. They seem very smug, and her eyes are on the ground. I try to imagine how she feels as the Pharisees and teachers of the law force her to come with them. Perhaps they give her a shove, watch her stumble, and roughly pull her back to her feet. She is completely vulnerable to their whims. It’s hard to tell from our vantage point, but did they even allow her to get dressed before they hauled her out into the streets? They will tell Jesus she was caught “in the very act” so it seems likely that she may not even be clothed. Can you sense her fear, her trepidation, or perhaps the anger as she takes one step closer to more humiliation? It must seem like a long walk especially in the midst of these men who—probably unknown to her—only want to use her to entrap the teacher Jesus.
They at last bring her to a halt. She looks up from the ground and sees she is at the Temple. And there is the teacher Jesus. A man who has caused all kinds of furor surrounded by a crowd. Not a small crowd either, not by any means, and they force her to stand in front of them.
The Bible does not say anything about the woman’s emotional reaction but at this point, her heart must be pounding. She can probably hear the blood as it pulses in her ears.
The men approach Jesus as he teaches. They ask Him what to do with this woman, inform him of what she was caught doing. He doesn’t answer right away, but starts writing in the dirt. So they keep questioning him. He finally stands, gives them an answer which they probably don’t quite comprehend at first, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus then bends down to write in the dirt again. The woman waits. Does she think about his words “let he who is without sin…”? Does Jesus somehow know that many of these men have sinned with her or with other women she knows? Does he know that the man with whom she was “caught in the very act” is among these accusers? As His words begin to sink in, she hears a solid thump as something heavy falls to the earth, hears more, a steady rain as the older men leave. The younger stay longer, grow uneasy. But one by one they leave. All of them. When she glances up, she sees stones scattered around her where the men once stood.
And he sees them too—the stones lying impotent on the ground with no one to cast them. He then asks her two questions. “Woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Lord.”
And He answers, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
We like to think this passage depicts Jesus as a completely nonjudgmental person who does away with the old Levitical law, and gives the woman a “get out of jail free” card. You broke the law, but hey everyone sins so those men, they just need to go easy on you. “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of thing. Well, not quite. While this is indeed a sweet story of Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy, there were a few things going on that we might not see with a surface reading. The following may seem a tad technical but I ask you to keep reading.
First of all, the Levitical law stated that both the man and woman were to be brought forward. So where was the man? It is truly not inconceivable that the man whom she had been caught with was among the accusers (as I alluded to above). And others of them were not just guilty of sin in general, but were probably guilty of the same ongoing sin, the sin of adultery. And Jesus knew it. This pricked their guilty consciences, and they left with the tables turned on them, “intimidated into silence by their realization that Jesus was privy to their sexual indiscretions.”
Secondly, when Jesus saw that her accusers were gone, He asked her what could be considered a legal question. The Law of Moses stated there had to be at least two witnesses to the offense so he verified their absence by asking “woman, where are your accusers? Does no one condemn you?” and she confirmed “no one, Lord.” She therefore, under the Law could not be punished for her sin. No witnesses, no execution.
Third lesson: we often gloss over the statement in which Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you…” Oh good, Jesus doesn’t condemn me for a-n-y-thing! I can live as I want and Jesus will still love me. Well, yes, He will still love you, but the next part of that statement puts her actions as well as ours in a different light. He tells her “go and sin no more.” In today’s vernacular, He might be saying something like, “Stay away from that mess. It will only get you in more trouble.” Jesus showed His love to this woman in two ways: by not condemning her, and by telling her to stop sinning. Jesus does not want us to stay in our sin. It is not good for us. It is not harmless. It is not something we can “handle”. He loves us too much to let us bear its weight alone.
And while we need to be careful about not “casting the first stone”, Christ did not mean we should not confront another when they are in a continued pattern of sinful behavior. He often confronted the Pharisees and other religious leaders, calling them some pretty unflattering names. He also gave us permission to help pull the speck out of our brother’s eye, once we had removed the log from our own eye (Matthew 7:5), and Galatians 6:1 teaches that the spiritual believer is to help restore those who have wandered from the faith.
While I’m glad this story is popular, it is an example of how the Bible can be misconstrued. God forgives, He does not wish to condemn. But (and this is a big but) He does not want us to keep on sinning.
Please hear me. God loves us enough to accept us and love us as we are. But He also loves us enough to help us out of the mess we are in.
My prayer is that we would learn to accept the gentle (and maybe not so gentle) rebukes from the Holy Spirit and from God’s word when we have strayed. I also pray that we would learn how to restore other believers when they are caught up in sin. Of course, we need to be careful in the manner we do this. The Pharisees and teachers of the law give us a good example of how not to handle this responsibility. They seemed to enjoy lording the woman’s sin over her. To not only take her through the streets, but also to make her stand in front of the huge crowd gathering around Jesus must have taken a patent heartlessness (John 8:3). Let us not be like them in our actions or in our minds, but rather restore with a gentle spirit as the Bible teaches, “keeping a watch on ourselves.” (Galatians 6:1 ESV)
Quotations as well as background information are from: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1277